Special heat-detecting photography shot with a borrowed thermal camera has revealed that the entire pile of smoldering tree stumps at a Granite dump is still hot, which may again change Baltimore County's strategy for battling the 6-month-old fire.
County Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister said the pictures, shot with a camera that was mounted on a county police helicopter, present a different view of the problem than what county fire officials had presumed.
Previous visual inspections of the fire, even by air, had convinced officials that the blaze had shrunk to perhaps 12 "hot spots" that have been under attack with water over the past three weeks.
The chief said the county has been pumping 300 gallons of water per minute into the pile through an open water line, hoping to "get lucky" and hit the hot spots.
The thermal pictures show, however, that the whole pile is still hot underneath. This means that a more general attack may be needed. Banister said he is gathering information to present a new strategy to County Executive Roger B. Hayden next week.
Under the new plan, Banister said, crews would use heavy construction equipment to tear apart the pile piece by piece, while county firefighters douse each stump as it is brought out of the pile. This approach would be expensive and take a long time, Banister said.
He is seeking help from the Maryland National Guard to see if state-owned heavy machines and possibly guardsmen could be used in the effort. If not, private contractors would have to be hired.
Banister said he probably will stop pumping water into the pile after seeing all the thermal snapshots. The thermal pictures were XTC taken Aug. 23 with a special camera on loan from AAI Corp., a Cockeysville-based defense contractor.
The dump of construction debris, operated by James Jett, has been closed for the past month by court order, although several small fires broke out Aug. 11 in piles of newly mulched stumps. Since then, Banister said, there have been no further problems.
The fire erupted Feb. 2 at the western Baltimore County site and raged fiercely for several weeks until settling into a slow burn. Smoke and odors have wafted for miles.